by Bob Raus of Océ North America's Digital Document Systems Division You need a partner that takes your success as seriously as you do. April 5, 2004 -- Workflow is one of the hottest topics across all aspects of digital printing because it relates directly to a company's organizational structure. How many people there are, who does what each day, how it's done and why are all determined by the systems, equipment and workflow. Whether a business has acquired some of the new, feature-rich printing systems available, is trying to maximize how existing equipment is used, seeking to derive a competitive advantage by offering new services, or all three, workflow is a top-of-mind priority. But at the same time, the complexity of many of today's documents, along with differences in applications, print environments, and types of equipment mean there can't be a one-size-fits-all workflow. Each print provider has to determine which are best for their operation--a non-trivial concern critical to productivity and profitability. So how do you begin creating the productive workflow that's right for your business or print operation? Four Guidelines to Partnering There are some things you can do to start, such as ensuring your staff is well-trained, that the steps in the process are located physically close together (to minimize wasted movement and partially completed work) , and that your operations can adapt to the different types of jobs you encounter. Beyond that you may need to rely on outside expertise. In choosing a company to work with, look for one you can truly partner with, because you need a partner that takes your success as seriously as you do. One the coexists with you current processes, equipment and systems. Having worked for several companies and with customers in many industries, business environments and a wide variety of applications, I offer four guidelines for identifying and working with a partner to develop the workflow you need. The goal is to improve your business. The partner should strive to gain a thorough understanding of your business, how it works now, the applications involved, where the pain points are, and where you want to go. They should then use that knowledge to develop the most appropriate workflow strategies to meet your goals. For example, suppose you presently produce basic statements but want to add value with data-driven graphics and personalized content for customers meeting certain criteria. You also want to have the same information available on the Internet in the near future. The new workflow--which is really how information is being moved through your system--must be developed with the adaptability to handle the graphics when needed and produce both print and electronic versions. The partner must be able to address and integrate the necessary steps across your entire workflow and train your staff how to leverage the capabilities of the new processes. A partner should be able to work in your best interest without needing to involve you or your staff in each decision. The focus is on your success, not what they have to sell you. Your partner should see the big picture for your business and understand the complete document lifecycle for your operation. Where data comes from, the formats it is in, how documents are created, who creates and accesses them, how they are printed and distributed, and how they are archived are all parts of a big picture. For example, Océ PRISMA comprises modular software tools that can be configured in many ways, so seeing that picture helps define the best configuration for each customer. To focus on your success, look for partners that can provide comprehensive tools for the complete document lifecycle and can ensure those tools will work together to deliver the workflow you need. One size does not fit all. The partner should be able to consult with you on both the overall workflow and individual components. But because the partner is as good at building and implementing productive workflows as you are at your business, and has taken the time to learn about your operation, they should be able to work in your best interest without needing to involve you or your staff in each decision. I liken it to building a house. You know the size, the number of rooms and have specified how you need things to look and work. But beyond knowing, say, that the wiring is of a certain specification and where the switches, fixtures and outlets will be, you don't need to be concerned with the nuances of how the wiring is run behind walls. Yet when the electrician has a question on changing an item that will add some value, you want to be consulted. It's the same with choosing the right workflow partner. If a workflow module will give you needed functionality, you should expect them to identify it, explain the benefits and include it –when needed- as part of the overall solution. Think beyond today's goals. The partner you need should be one whose knowledge and expertise can take you beyond where you want to go today. For instance, a partner should have knowledge of business trends and new technologies you should be aware of and be able to help you leverage those trends to your benefit. Based on this knowledge, their understanding of your operation, and your short and long term goals, they may be able to provide workflow elements that make it easier to add new capabilities and efficiencies as the new technologies become available. As a key business process, workflow is the key to your competitive advantage. Staying ahead of the competition requires a workflow that can improve over time. Technology is great when used correctly. The truth is, there is simply too much for any one person or company to know. That's where vendors and partners come in. Working with the right partner to develop and implement a workflow that is right for your business today enables you to keep pace with change. Selecting the right partner will help you get a jump start on improving your business.